Touch move at the Candidates

In case you did not see it. In a rook ending yesterday, Nakamura touched the king and seemed to act as if it was correcting the piece. In the video you can see the change of posture. I do not want to criticise him; it is hard to deal with your dream dying in a millisecond and these guys are under a lot of pressure. It took him 2-3 seconds to recompose himself and play on, just as Aronian jumped in very quickly calling it touched move. Aronian had no bad words about his opponent after the game, which says a lot. Our brain works in loops of 3 seconds, where we deal with the inputs just recieved; Nakamura did not get to the end of such a loop before he instinctively wished he had just corrected the piece. With my experience it shows nothing about his moral fibre at all.

However, another interesting aspect of the game was that Aronian afterwards said in the press conference that the endgame was winning. Was he joking? Emil Sutovsky condemned him on Facebook, which I found distasteful. Sutovsky is the PCA President and is continuously involving himself in personal squabbles with other top players. I agree that he should condemn players for bad behaviour (as if Nakamura had actually pushed for “j’doube” seriously), but not for misassessing a rook ending.

And the endgame is a draw:


Aronian-Nakamura the ending is a draw


Gelfand’s prediction

Finally I want to point out that our experienced writer, Boris Gelfand, predicted that Anand would win the candidates, because he is the most experienced player in the field. Pointing to himself, Kramnik and Anand as those that won the last three candidates being very experienced in dealing with the pressure as the basis for his analysis. OK, he knows Carlsen won in 2013, but he points out that this is a remarkable genius and that he only won on tiebreak over Kramnik.

The leaders now are Karjakin, who missed a winning position against World Champion Kramnik in 2004 or something like this and have made it to the end of the World Cup several times, won the Olympiad with Ukraine, missed out of his chance at the last candidates and so on. Aronian has been close to the peak ever since his World Cup win in 2005. Anand is half a point trailing.

Boris might prove to be wrong in his prediction, with young Karjakin surprisingly taking the first spot, but it would be based on what Gelfand said was the main feature: experience.

39 thoughts on “Touch move at the Candidates”

  1. A mature and sensible reaction to an unfortunate high pressure incident. Lets hope everyone can move on and enjoy the chess. Sutovsky is not impressive at all. Better to besilent and thought a fool…

    Karjakin and Aronian are ahead as they have been able to “burgle” more half points than anyone else. A mixture of good play, persistence and luck which are key requirements to win such an event. Karjakin is my favourite now.

    Anand is using his experience well, often being first to finish and this may come in to play later in the event. I backed him to win in the Quiz but don’t think he will any more. The loss to Karjakin was too costly.

    Caruana looks like he has prepared very well , but has been been burgled himself in a couple of scenarios. He’ll need to get a win soon to gain momentum and avoid getting dispirited.

    Likewise Giri ought to be thinking of beating Anand. He is always difficult to beat, but ought to have a win by now as I can’t see him being dynamic enough to score +3 over 7 games against this level of opposition.

    Still think + 3 will be enough for clear first.

    Topalov, Nakamura and unfortunately Svidler, are too far back now, but I can see them being king makers… Nakamura needs to gain from the experience and move on- he is good enough and young enough to come again.

  2. That was a great Round 6 incidents In all the four games we had Touch move,brilliant attacking miniature,3.h4!?
    And a defensive Queen sac. I find interesting those rare games where the video recording becomes important evidence like Aronian v Nakamura’s

  3. For anyone interested this 2min video from the World Chess YouTube channel shows the whole incident:

    While I sympathise with someone being upset about their dream being crushed. I don’t think any of the other players at the Candidates that would have done what Nakamura did in that video if they were in the same situation (including Topalov).

    To me, he tried to get away with cheating. I think we should should be grateful that there was a camera and arbiter that saw it, otherwise it could have been a lot worse. I think Nakamura didn’t persist in his claims because he realised the arbiter had seen it. Lets not forget Hikaru has a record, he did some illegal move against Nepomniachtchi at the World Cup, there he got away with it. That was not as bad as what he did here, however, I think in future Nakamura would benefit from reading the rules of Chess again.

    I also hope that FIDE takes some kind of disciplinary action against him after the tournament ends. In my eyes; he got caught trying to cheat, therefore he should receive some form of disciplinary action like a participant in any other sport or activity would, if they got caught.

  4. @James

    I agree with Jacob on this one, and I think interpreting it as an attempt to cheat is much too harsh.

    In one of my own games, I have been on the “Aronian side” of a similar incident. My opponent touched a piece, then realised he was about to blunder, and said “J’adoube” in a hopeful tone of voice. I said “no”, and my opponent agreed at once, and played the losing move with the piece he touched. The whole incident probably took a couple of seconds. No arbiter involved, no problem.

    And I can guarantee my opponent was not trying to cheat, as he is good friend and I know him well. It was just a moment of panic when he saw something bad about to happen.

  5. Btw. I looked at the Caruana – Karjakin game. I did not find any real winning chances for Caruana. The computer does not understand fortresses.

  6. I see something like that as a foul in football, instinctive, mistimed and wrong and quickly dealt with by application of the laws.

    …and a Roy Keane two footed lunge is the equivalent of using computer assistance.

    Trouble is that a lot of people are applying the Roy Keane reaction to Nakamura – seems an overreaction to me.

  7. What a remarkably sensible response among the sea of reactionary hyperbole elsewhere. And btw FinalGen is a really great tool.

    Also thanks for the great free comp – clue’s in the name of the company!


  8. @John Shaw My point is what if that exact same situation you described happened again, except it was Nakamura you were playing, do you think the same peaceable outcome would have been reached?

    I think Hikaru has a record of doing questionable things. I didn’t like the comments he made about Kasparov in a previous London Chess Classic (basically said Kasparov was only good at openings). IM Greg Shahade also revealed during a Twitch stream that he has received multiple abusive letters from Nakamura after writing an article about him. The incident in the World Cup with Nepomniachtchi. Now this incident with Aronian. One wonders what he’ll do next, how much more can he get away with before people say he’s crossed a line?

  9. @John Shaw : Yes, this happens, but do you believe that in a casual tournament, without arbiters nor cameras, Naka would have played the king ?
    Hm….this is not clear to me.

  10. @James

    You keep referring to the incident with Nepomniachtchi, where I believe Naka was cleared, moreover I think it was a case of a desperate Nepo grasping at straws. Probably more serious for Naka than the touch move incident, will be his skipping the contractual post game interview afterward and it will be interesting to see how the organisers will react to that.

    I have noticed that Naka has some serious online detractors, and incidents involving him often tend to get overblown, or posters use the opportunity to pile on by re-hashing old stuff that he may or may not been guilty of. Naka’s comment about Kasparov was probably as a consequence of their failed collaboration. Rumour has it that Kasparov is very difficult to work with and that is why Carlsen got his dad to fire him when they worked together.

    In the end Naka didn’t make a fuss and played the losing move with the piece he touched and Aronian did not comment on the incident in the post game interview. Time to move on I think

  11. @Topnotch I don’t think he was cleared of the incident with Nepomniachtchi, I think the problem was Ian didn’t register the complaint at the time, therefore Hikaru got off on a technicality. I agree regarding him skipping the post game interview, I think I heard or read somewhere that there’s 5% fine from any prize money awarded to a player, if they skip one of these post game interviews.

    I don’t think they’re comparable. There is documented evidence of Nakamura doing morally questionable things. As you say yourself, it is “rumours” regarding Kasparov. With Nakamura we have hard video evidence and people that have been on the record about his behaviour.

    Like I said before, I don’t think he made a fuss because in the video you can see the arbiter telling him to move the king. Also I think in the exchange of words between Aronian and Nakamura at the board, during the incident, Aronian actually says to Nakamura there’s video cameras, I don’t have this confirmed yet. I wish the interviewers had asked Aronian during the post game interview what words were exchanged.

    I don’t think my view point is a minority one either. His own compatriot Alex Yermolinksy made some quite insightful comments about this incident during a recent broadcast, his co-host GM Khachiyan also had some interesting insights too, especially given his past coaching of Aronian, I think their views are very interesting to listen to because we get both sides, as both of these GMs know…

  12. @Topnotch Last part of what I said got cut off. Below is missing part:

    as both of these GMs know Hikaru or Levon.

    If anyone is interested in listening to their discussion of this Aronian-Nakamura incident you can watch the replay of it here on Twitch: skip to time frame 01:01:51 if you only want to listen to their discussion of the incident.

  13. As a big Kasparov fan I have to say that Kasparov was quite rude publicly towards Nakamura. Kasparov could not travel to Israel for years because of fraud charges. Whether they were correct or not we will never know, but Kasparov decided to not go there.
    The touch move incident is easily explained by Sagar’s interview with Nakamura from the day after. This insinuation going on above is frankly ridiculous. Play a bullet game where you film yourself and you will see that the camera slows everything down…

  14. Jacob Aagaard :
    As a big Kasparov fan I have to say that Kasparov was quite rude publicly towards Nakamura. Kasparov could not travel to Israel for years because of fraud charges. Whether they were correct or not we will never know, but Kasparov decided to not go there.
    The touch move incident is easily explained by Sagar’s interview with Nakamura from the day after. This insinuation going on above is frankly ridiculous. Play a bullet game where you film yourself and you will see that the camera slows everything down…

    That Kasparov-Israel incident is not comparable because it’s rumours and hearsay.

    For those that haven’t seen Sagar Shah’s interview with Nakamura you can watch it here: please note that at 1:55, Hikaru seems to try and turn this onto Aronian by saying he was upset by comments Aronian made. This is utter rubbish, if you watch the video of the incident you see Aronian is calm in his chair, only when Nakamura tries to claim j’adoube does he become animated, as I expect anyone would do if someone tried to cheat you in the most important event of your life. I only see Aronian speaking to the arbiter, then the arbiter seems to say something to Nakamura, at this point I think Hikaru realises he’s not getting away with it.

    What Nakamura could have done in that interview is apologise to…

  15. Last part was cut off:

    What Nakamura could have done in that interview is apologise to Aronian, also apologise to the fans for his behaviour, this could have gone some way to restoring a bit of his character. Instead he seems to have used it as an opportunity to attack Aronian. Aronian is one of the nicest guys in chess, he’s kind when he loses, he signs autographs and takes photos with fans when asked. To see his good name slandered by Hikaru in this video is just wrong.

  16. A part I haven’t seen discussed is how humans normally function when under pressure. Isn’t it so that you normally turn to your basic patterns? E.g. Soccer player under pressure fumble and tennis player get the dreaded rubber arm. Applying this to chess would mean you act by instinct. My instinct has never ever been to try to say j’adoube WHEN I touch a piece. I have an ingrained pattern which is to say j’adoube FIRST before even reaching out with my hand. I can’t believe Nakamura doesn’t know how the touch rule works exactly, even a first grader learns that in our chess school. Therefore, I agree fully with Yermo in this case.

  17. Sorry, typing on the phone made me leave out a sentence. I meant that the soccer and tennis player in those situations turn to doing basic stuff, and skipping fancy things (when under pressure). And they act out of instinct.

  18. There is a bit about how the brain works here. We do not make choices, we eliminate choices. Nakamura sees his hand terribly close to the king and says J’doube, everything goes very fast. Did he touch it before he said J’doube? He is not sure. He is told he did, he accepts it without reservation.

    Aronian apparently said something to him in the situation which felt uncomfortable. Once, I won on time and why opponent told me my mother was a whore. The arbiter was standing next to him. I looked at him in disbelief. The arbiter said: “You won this position, what more do you want?” The same goes for Aronian here. He gets a big gift, he does not have to get personal. Do I criticise him? No, the pressure is high, a big amount of adrenalin is suddenly released as he realises he is going to win the game.

    I have tried to play in the national team many times and the pressure is always big. Try playing in the candidates. The players are clearly not always going to cope. Svidler failed yesterday. Kramnik always gets a lot of respect, but see the interviews in 2013 and see what arrogant is. Would I change something? No. I like the honesty of our players, the personalities and the drama. People criticising this can watch tennis where everyone hates each other, but always speak nicely all the time so they do not risk losing their big sponsors…

  19. Jacob
    “The same goes for Aronian here. He gets a big gift, he does not have to get personal.”

    Not trying to stir up things unnecessarily but is there any evidence other than Naka’s own comment that Aronian was being personal? I could not hear any audio either way to confirm whether Naka said j’adoube or what Aronian’s reply was but painting Aronian as the villain of the piece seems unfair.
    It certainly didn’t look like Naka was trying to adjust to me but play a move and realise too late it was a blunder and the fact that he actually spoke to Aronian directly rather than the arbiter indicates that he was wanting a reply from him. reading Aronian’s reaction it was quite understandable if he was flabbergasted that someone would ask for the rules of chess to be altered just for him. I’d be quite annoyed if an opponent tried it in a league game with me let alone in the Candidates. If Aronian did get personal then that is a different matter.

    We all do things we regret on impulse but I felt Nak let himself down for not trying to admit an error and apologise in the interview when he had had time to carefully consider his behviour. An apology with words along the line of “Sorry-I shouldn’t have asked for j’adoube but it was in the heat of the moment in a high stakes game”- instead he focused the blame away from himself and was critical of his opponents reaction. Aronian has not commented on the matter as far as I know. Not sure if he can be blamed for any…

  20. Fabrice Wantiez :
    Please credit IGM Luc Winants for his analyse and the picture here above !!

    No, because that is Jacob’s FinalGen analysis and screenshot. No doubt it is identical to the analysis you saw elsewhere. Obviously many people around the world were checking FinalGen to see if Aronian was right about his ‘winning’ assessment.

  21. The Nakamura-Aronian debate moved on while I was away for the weekend. Now Nakamura claims Aronian said something personal during their brief j’adoube debate?

    We need the players to wear microphones so we can appreciate all the drama. Unless a recording exists and I just don’t know about it?

  22. @John Shaw The commentators/organisers handled the situation badly as well, they should have asked Aronian about the incident during his post-game interview. I was pretty shocked they didn’t at the time. Then they should have also forced Hikaru to comment as well, I think I heard he was docked 10% prize money for not attending the post-game interview. It’s this kind of drama which is actually useful for generating media interest. As a chess fan I was very interested to know what Hikaru said to Aronian, what Aronian said back, also what Aronian said to the arbiter. It’s like not asking a football manager about a dodgy penalty or sending off in their post-match interviews on Match of the Day.

    Microphones actually isn’t a bad idea. I remember Agon were floating heart rate monitors before the 2013 London Candidates, I thought that would of been strange. Microphones though, why not? We would get to listen to immediate analysis that players often dive into at the board once the game ends, on top of that would know when draw offers of made etc.

  23. @James
    Heart rate monitors would probably work, with the new fitbit watches. But it would tell us a bit about the players, which I am not sure they want to share with us :-).

  24. Jacob

    Apologies for being over the top as I agree you didn’t go as far as paint Aronian as a villain but I still don’t see Aronian is due any criticism unless you know exactly what he said to Naka and it was personal. I red his subsequent interview since my previous post and he was nothing but nice to Naka which I can’t say is true the other way round.
    As I said no-one commenting on this (me, you etc) was sure exactly what was said unless there is an audio feed I’m unaware of so I am a bit confused how my best reading of the body language and video evidence was “quite certainly not what happened”. Even if you have had the inside line from one of the players or arbiter it is still hearsay of their version of events which may or not be related to the facts.
    As far as I can see my best guess seems perfectly reasonable so it would be great to hear why you are so certain it doesn’t stand up. we seem to agree on soem parts of the evidence and not on another (see below) so I’m not sure this is the part where I am certainly wrong or about something else

    1. Was it a j’adoube motion? I think we agree no
    Naka’s king was as about centrally placed on its square as it could be and there seemed to be no attempt to make an adjustment as he held on to the piece so long that kosteniuk was able to say ‘he touched the king’ before his hand even let go. It was one of those ‘I’m moving this piece but haven’t exactly decided which square yet” grasps with the change of…

  25. 1. Was it a j’adoube motion? I think we agree no
    …… change of posture you noted when he realises he’s blundered-so it seems we don’t seem to disagree on that.
    2. Did he move on swiftly and gracefully accept his mistake? No- we don’t seem to agree here.
    In contrast your version of “2-3 seconds to recompose himself and play on” is very certainly NOT what happened as the video evidence clearly refutes that- it is only much later when the arbiter insisted he move his king after Aronian protested that he moved on. Inbetween that was his comment to aronian and the reaction to that. We don’t know if he said j’adoube after the fact but the video shows him talking directly to Aronian. This should only be a draw offer or resignation and I can’t imagine Aronian would react to a draw offer like that or why subsequently the arbiter would intervene to make him play on. I think Naka saying ‘I didn’t mean to touch it can I have a takeback’ or ‘j’adoube’ are the most natural phrases that would provoke Aronian’s reactions and the arbiter to step in

    How did you see it in your version Jacob?

  26. Other forums may be better suited for the kind of talk just above.

    On a different perspective, ordinary chessplayers can be relieved that one of their worst fears – blundering a move after a long thought, forgetting they knew from start this precise move wasn’t possible – not just happens to them because they’re patzers, but to top players as well.
    Coach-wise, how can this be mitigated ? perhaps not just at move selection/check, but also at deflating the thinking process that made this blunder possible. Any advice appreciated.

  27. @Johnnyboy
    Aronian talked to him too. I think even first. I just don’t see a big incident here. It was touched move and Nakamura was not sure he had actually touched the king. I just know how fast things go when you are at the board and how slow they go when you watch the video. I have been in a similar sort of controversy. Blitz tournament, but still. My opponent touched his king on f1, wanting to move the f4-pawn (or the other way around, not sure now). He claimed he had not intended to touch it. I think he believed this, but he also did not intent to correct it, so why is he touching it. It became really murky and the arbiter had to make an impossible choice. He went my way, which was great, but the situation was unpleasant for all.

    I did not see Nakamura rejecting that he touched the piece in the interview. Actually, he did not say it, he said he was OK with the ruling. Could he feel hurt by an implicit hint that he was trying to cheat in a remark from Aronian. I think so. Do you think Aronian was hinting he was trying to cheat? Maybe. Would that be justified by the circumstances? Maybe. Does this mean that Nakamura tried to cheat? I don’t think so. Lots of pressure, things went very fast, he was not sure if he was touching the king and saying J’doube in the same moment or if he had touched it first. If you actually look at how ridiculous it is to move the king in that position, you can easily imagine him touching the king by a…

  28. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    @Cowe – “ordinary chessplayers can be relieved that one of their worst fears – blundering a move after a long thought, forgetting they knew from start this precise move wasn’t possible – not just happens to them because they’re patzers, but to top players as well.”

    I don’t blunder because I am a patzer. I am a patzer because I blunder. The difference for top players is not in the kind of error, but in the frequency. Say one per tournament for them, one per game for me. For simple errors, one per year for them, etc. …

    My actual worst fear is playing in a multi-day tournament with an accumulated sleep deficit before the start. Because that snowball quickly builds downhill.

  29. Jacob, thanks for your view of the incident. Surprised we can see the same video and have very differing insights- shades of Rashomon!
    I think Grandmasters must have too many variations going round in their head compared to the common or garden patzer like me if you think Nakamura wasn’t sure he touched the piece. Kasparov’s incident with Polgar was him releasing the piece for a matter of milliseconds that i can fully understand when he claimed he never felt himself let go but Naka had hold of the piece for around 2 seconds. Remember this is the bullet specialist who can make half a dozen moves in that time if he needs to. His change of posture you noted when he realises what he’s done and the flick of his hand to almost pretend he wasn’t holding it were unnatural movements he never makes when moving normally and were his reaction to him knowing he had touched it in error.
    I agree that Naka never claimed not to touch it in the interview but it sure looked like he did at the time or claimed he was making a j’adoube. Not sure how he could be hurt by a hint that this is cheating when quite frankly if he is not accepting one of the fundamental rules of the game he’s certainly in the same ball park as cheating. I know that players of many sports try to push the limits- badgering the referee, diving and deliberate handball in football for instance but chess has a better code of conduct hence the Matulovic incident back in the day is still seen as outrageous. not sure why…

  30. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    I consider myself a moral person, certainly no worse than most. However, almost 30 years ago, I had an incident myself: with seconds left (g/20 event, no delay in those days) in a completely winning endgame I made an inopportune king move and stalemated my opponent; then tried to say that my hand never left the piece. But GM Patrick Wolff (who a dozen years after this would give me my chess nickname) was watching and protested loudly. As for apologizing afterwards…. This I also did not do. It takes a long time (as in days at least, probably weeks) to integrate contradictory actions into a self-image.

    I have thought about this a great deal over the years. At first I wanted to ignore it, to pass it off as just an “unexplained” isolated incident…. But there have been a few non-chess incidents as well over the years. I concluded that it is part of the human frailty to sometimes do the wrong thing, even when we know the right thing. I further concluded that I should not be quick to judge other players who transgress the rules under the pressure of competition. (Touch move and flag fall are particularly susceptible to such pressure.) We are all human, we are all capable of both great and mean things. The best thing to do is to apply the rules fairly and let God do the judging.

    However, I do think it is wise to know the general character of your opponent, and take steps to defend yourself if they have a certain “reputation” for bending the rules. It is also wise not…

  31. An Ordinary Chessplayer

    [sorry, notepad deceived me about the character count]
    … It is also wise not to rely too much on a favorable impression of someone’s character, since people can do surprising things when you observe them under different circumstances.

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